Warsaw, 30 July, 1946. Judge Antoni Knoll, as a member of the Main Commission for the Investigation of German Crimes in Poland, interviewed the person specified below as a witness, who testified as follows:
My name is Stanisław Płoski, the son of Józef and Wanda, née Biegańska, born on
4 December 1899 in Bryansk (USSR), PhD, deputy director of the Institute of National Remembrance at the Presidium of the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Poland in Warsaw; I live in Praga in Warsaw, at Zygmuntowska Street 14, flat no. 50; I have no criminal record, no relationship to any parties.
During the occupation, I was in charge of the Military Historical Bureau at the Headquarters of the Union of Armed Struggle, later the Home Army. My duties included collecting data regarding the German terror (the so-called ‘chronicles of the occupation’). By virtue of these duties, in principle, I know the work of individual German organizations that used terror in the occupied Polish territories, especially the SS and SA.
As far as the SS is concerned, this organization, whose full name was Schutzstaffel, existed in Germany from, as far as I can remember, 1925, and its aim was to protect high-ranking dignitaries in the Nazi Party as well as policing the party. The SS entered Poland together with the regular army in 1939. In October, 1939, the Sicherheitspolizei (the security police) consisted of SS-men. The Sicherheitspolizei dealt with political cases (the Gestapo – Geheime-Staat-Polizei) and criminal cases (the Kripo – Kriminal- Polizei). In addition, existing independently was the Schutzpolizei (the Schupo), whose task, to some degree, was to assist the Sicherheitspolizei. The full terror unleashed on the Polish population – the main basis of the occupation authorities’ rule – was concentrated in the hands of the Sicherheitspolizei, which means in the hands of the SS and other organizations that were closely connected with the SS, such as the Waffen-SS (formerly SS-Totenkopfverbande). The work of the Sicherheitspolizei, and hence of the SS, included making arrests and searches, arresting people in the street (so-called round-ups), conducting pacification operations, taking all kinds of collective repressive measures, holding police court-martials (Polizeistandgericht), guarding prisoners in concentration and labor camps, conducting public and secret executions, and deporting Poles from different places in the former General Government. Generally speaking, the entire deportation operation was concentrated in the hands of the SS (so-called Umsiedlungsamt). The SS was responsible for guarding political prisoners, e.g. in the castle in Lublin, the Pawiak prison in Warsaw, the Montelupich Prison in Krakow, the Baszta [“tower”] prison in Zamość, and so on. The SS also conducted interrogations of arrested people that involved sophisticated and elaborate tortures.
The Gestapo headquarters at aleja Szucha in Warsaw and on Pomorska Street in Krakow, the ones in Zakopane and Nowy Sącz, and some others, were especially infamous for torturing people. The SS used different kinds of tortures during interrogations. The most frequent methods were kicking the lower part of the arrested person’s stomach, damaging their kidneys by hitting them with a rubber club, feeding the arrested people salted herrings without allowing them to quench their thirst, hanging them by their arms, forcing them to do knee bends with their arms stretched out in front of them, which were then hit with leather whips, and if the arrested people lost their balance, they were kicked and beaten until they regained it, and so on.
When people were being deported, they were given 20 minutes to pack their things. One was permitted to take personal possessions, without valuables. This was all accompanied by beating. Those who were seriously ill were ordered to be taken outside, disregarding the fact that this could cause their death. This is how Prof. Bronisław Dębiński from Poznań died. The deported people were kept by SS-men out in the cold for a long time, disregarding thecondition of pregnant women or children’s age. There was no heating in the transit camps. There was no provision of food, ignoring the fact that the deported people did not always have something to eat on them. People were transported to new places, despite severe winter weather, usually in freight wagons that had no heating; therefore, it often happened that the elderly and ill people as well as children froze to death, for example, thetransport of children from the Zamość region in the winter of 1943… Cases of frostbite, often resulting in disability, occurred on a daily basis.
Pacification operations in particular villages were conducted by the SS in the following way: a village was surrounded, set on fire and its residents – who were trying to escape from the flames – were either shot dead or caught and, regardless of their sex or age, thrown back into the fire. I know cases, both in the Kielce region and the Lublin region, when after a village had been surrounded and all the residents rounded up, they were locked in one or several barns and burnt alive. Unfortunately, I cannot exactly remember the names of these villages. The burning down of farms together with their residents suspected of sympathizing with partisan organizations occurred on a daily basis. I know cases when mills were burnt down in the Sochaczew and Rawa Mazowiecka counties for grinding grain without permission. All activities related to pacification and deportation operations were mainly conducted by the SS.
In Warsaw, the SS took part in all mass round-ups of the civilian population; the victims caught during round-ups were transported away to Germany to do forced labor at best; at worst, they were sent to concentration camps or their names were put on so-called lists of hostages and they were executed. A huge round-up conducted in the Żoliborz quarter on 19 September 1940 provided a contingent of Varsovians who were sent to Auschwitz. The round-ups in January 1942 filled the Majdanek camp. The SS was also used to carry out so-called ‘blockades’ of either individual buildings or streets or even whole quarters. During these blockades, after a building, a street or a quarter had been surrounded there was a search, sometimes a very detailed one, sometimes a superficial one, accompanied by checking the people’s papers. As for searches, one would never know what or whom they were looking for, or who might be arrested as a result of the search. Blockades were a repressive measure aimed at terrorizing the population, since given the methods that were used nobody could be certain whether or not they would fall victim to it. As a consequence of the blockades, people who had been incriminated by neither the search nor the on-the- spot investigation were often put in prison.
As I stressed above, the SS also conducted public and secret executions. Public executions in Warsaw took place between the middle of October 1943 and June 1944. The basis of these executions were sentences issued by police court-martials. The sentence included only the following: the composition of the court-martial (three police or SS-Totenkopfverband officers), the forename, surname and the personal details of the accused, the offence he or she was charged with and the administered punishment. There were no transcripts of court proceedings. I estimate the number of these executions at 46. According to German announcements (megaphones and notices), 2,705 people were killed in them. In reality, this number is considerably higher, since – as it was possible to establish with regard to a few cases – the number of people who were actually executed on a given day quite substantially exceeded the number that had been announced. The grounds for holding trials before police court-martials were often really trifling, for example an anonymous denunciation, or being a holder of a provincial Kennkarte, which aroused suspicion in the interrogating person that the holder was simply a liaison in an underground organization. This kind of evidence was enough for SS-men, members of court-martials, to pronounce death sentences. They also resorted to such methods as giving a person who did not know German a document in German to be signed containing his or her admission to guilt. This happened to a Warsaw University professor, Arnold.
Police court-martials were totally independent of the administrative authorities and were only subordinate to the chief of the police and the SS, which were closely connected with each other. I am not aware whether, or if so to what degree, the SS and the Polizeiführer were subordinate to the administrative authorities.
With reference to the SA (Sturm-Abetilung), this organization did not play a role as significant as that of the SS, rather it served a double role, namely – on the one hand – it fulfilled auxiliary functions for the administrative authorities, such as making sure that quotas were collected, etc., and – on the other hand – it served an educational function for the Volksdeutsche, whom it was supposed to shape into “respectable” Germans (making them familiar with German culture, language, the party ideology and so on). I cannot describe the activity of the SA in the General Government in more detail. However, I can say that the SA was subordinate to the administrative authorities.
The witness interview report was read out.